Daniel Eisenberg's 'The Unstable Object': An Exploration of Things

In one of the many oddly riveting shots in Daniel Eisenberg's new film "The Unstable Object," large black-and-white plastic clocks glide across the frame from left to right carried by a rubber conveyor belt. A woman's hand pushes one back out of the frame, but it returns, pushing forward once again across the frame. In another shot, several of the round clocks are suspended crookedly on a pegboard. And in a third, we see wall after wall of clocks, all pointing to noon (or midnight) in a captivating portrait of analog time. The images are at once precisely what they are -- clocks being produced in a factory -- as well as indexes of so much more. They suggest our current moment, a sense of transition, the history of cinema itself and its shift from an analog art form that understood time in one way, to the digital and its focus on intensities...

The clock images are from the middle section of Eisenberg's film, which will screen at REDCAT Thursday, March 22 at 8:30 p.m. The film is a meditative visual essay that explores the production of three specific kinds of objects: high-end cars at the dazzling, high-tech VW Phaeton factory in Dresden; clocks at Chicago Lighthouse Industries; and cymbals in a factory in a town outside of Istanbul.

Each section observes the production process from beginning to end with careful attention to detail and an obvious affection for the specific textures, sounds and spaces of each workspace. In the car factory, we marvel at the incredible machinery and the synchronization of human workers and robotic intelligence. The space itself is pristine, the workers wear white jumpsuits and gloves, and the cars gleam under the bright lights. In the clock factory, the workers are blind, and move through cluttered but well-used workspace with care. While the car factory features a glistening finish, the clock factory is highly textured, and Eisenberg shows us how these textures help the workers assemble the clocks. In the cymbal factory, the work space seems almost to have been carved out of the earth. Workers stand in billowing clouds of grey steam as they hoist and pound glowing globs of molten material, and shafts of light illuminate some spaces, while others remain dark except for the orange glow of fire where the metal is heated.

Eisenberg, a Chicago-based filmmaker who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, writes eloquently about his film: "I am interested in the ways that 'things' transmit and elicit sensations of all kinds, both for the producer and the consumer." He continues, "The object becomes an intermediary, a medium for the transmission of sensation from the one who makes, to the one who takes." The things in "The Unstable Object" become the nexus for thinking about products and production, about consumers and consumption, and about more virtual systems of commerce, finance and exchange. But the genius of the film is how it manages to communicate all of this despite its relentless focus on the things at the center of the three portraits.

To read more about Eisenberg's work, see his essay about the film here, or take a look at "Postwar: The Films of Daniel Eisenberg", edited by Jeffrey Skoller and published by Black Dog Press; the book centers on four specific films from the filmmaker's larger body of work: "Displaced Person " (1981), "Cooperation of Parts" (1987), "Persistence" (1997), and "Something More Than Night" (2003).

About the Author

Holly Willis teaches in USC's School of Cinematic Arts and writes about new media art. She is the author of "New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image" and editor of "The New Ecology of Things" on pervasive computing.
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